Private tenants will not be evicted from their homes for at least three months even if struggling with their rent under emergency coronavirus legislation announced by the housing secretary.
Robert Jenrick said new laws would ban landlords in England and Wales from evicting tenants, following days of pressure by campaigners and tenants’ unions who had warned that tens of thousands of households could be made homeless because they could not afford rent.
He said: “Emergency legislation will be taken forward as an urgent priority so that landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period.”
If that legislation goes through soon, renters will be able to rest easy until the middle of June, but the reprieve may only defer difficulties with landlords and evictions. After that point “landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances”, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said.
There will be new government guidance asking landlords “to show compassion” and allow affected tenants to remain in their homes “wherever possible”.
The London Renters Union (LRU) said the move did not go far enough, considering it came a day after Tuesday’s announcement of a mortgage holiday for property owners.
“If landlords can get a payment holiday, why won’t the government also implement a suspension of rent payments?” said Amina Gichinga, an LRU spokesperson. “We must suspend rents, not defer them. Otherwise the end of the coronavirus crisis could mean the beginning of an evictions crisis.”
The moves followed confirmation from social landlords that they would not evict tenants who were struggling with payments. Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “No one should be evicted because of the coronavirus. We are confident that no housing association will do this, and want anyone affected by the outbreak to be reassured they will not be evicted.”
As the virus spread over recent weeks, the tenants and community union Acorn, which operates in several UK cities, gathered 15,000 signatures for a petition demanding Boris Johnson exercise emergency powers to protect renters. In 2017-18, the private rented sector accounted for 4.5 million or 19% of households in England. It has doubled in size since 2002.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, which campaigned for the suspension, said it would “come as a great relief to many people”.
“Without this decisive action, tens of thousands of renters would have been faced with eviction in the coming months, while potentially trying to isolate and protect themselves and others.”